In case you haven’t already heard the uproar, Microsoft has made yet another decision nobody understands. As a follow-on to their largely-ignored Windows Vista, Windows 7 is working its way toward store shelves sometime later this year. Unfortunately, Microsoft has chosen to ignore the public outcry surrounding their Vista version madness. In a decision that shocked many, they announced that they plan to release 6, yes SIX, versions of Windows 7. For those keeping score, that amounts to 5 crippled versions and 1 complete version.

If that marketing department insanity weren’t bad enough, the announcement of the most severely crippled version is, in my opinion, specifically-geared toward insulting folks living in less-fortunate countries. Even worse, we lowly consumers won’t be allowed to buy the complete version in any store. More on this odd twist later.

Here are the announced versions of Windows 7:

  • Windows 7 Starter Edition (for emerging market and netbook users)
  • Windows 7 Home Basic (for emerging market customers only)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (the main “Media Center” equivalent)
  • Windows 7 Professional (the business SKU for home users and non-enterprise licensees)
  • Windows 7 Enterprise (for volume licensees)
  • Windows 7 Ultimate (for consumers who want/need business features)

Microsoft says that this lineup was created based on input from users. (Seriously? Anyone believe that?) As proof, they say they came up with a great solution for the many who think there are too many versions. They will only allow you to buy two out of the six versions at retail.

I’m not making that up. That was their "brilliant" solution. The two versions that will be sold at retail are Home Premium and Professional. This means the complete OS (Ultimate) is only available as an upgrade after you buy a crippled version. They seemed so proud of themselves for thinking of this solution, it almost makes me feel guilty, like I’m poking fun at the mentally-impaired, to point out the complete absurdity of it.

Frankly, it sounds to me like somebody with a lot of "pull" at Microsoft is heavily-vested in the "purchase-then-upgrade" model and simply refuses to let it go, no matter how stupid it is. I’d love to know who that idiot is, so I could post the name everywhere. Bill Veghte, Senior Vice President of the Windows business has come out in defense of this plan, so perhaps the buck stops there? Somebody should ask him where the obsession with selling upgrades started.

As you can tell, I have numerous problems and more than a little bitterness regarding this obvious profit-pumping ploy. Perhaps, I should take a moment to elaborate on what bugs me about it.

Here are the top 10 things I hate about this announcement:

  1. They are asking consumers who want the complete OS to pay twice in order to get it. That’s worse than simply inconvenient.
  2. They are starting with a complete OS and removing ever larger portions of it to arbitrarily create half a dozen crippled versions of that OS for the sole purpose of pumping more money out of us later with upgrades.
  3. The most heavily-crippled version is an insult to the intended market, considering that even the complete OS will run on the intended equipment without any problem whatsoever.
  4. They could sell us the entire complete OS for exactly the same price as the cheapest crippled version and STILL make a hefty profit by reducing the numerous costs associated with selling so many crippled versions.
  5. I am insulted by their assumption that all home users do not need encryption or the ability to log onto a domain.
  6. I am annoyed by the fact that they feel they can choose which features I need installed on my systems better than I can. Give me everything and I’ll make the choices while installing.
  7. I am sensitive to manipulation by marketing morons and alarm bells go off when I see somebody intentionally crippling their product to artificially create the "option" of upgrading it later.
  8. The assumption that one billion users can be perfectly served by releasing 6 versions is as ridiculous as saying the vast majority of the public can be served by 2. A complete OS will serve more users than either 2 or 6 versions. If their intention really is to serve the needs of the most people, they would be selling one version and letting the individuals decide what to remove.
  9. They are lying to my face and I don’t like it. Their press release said they listened to users and came up with this solution. I’ve seen and heard a LOT of users complaining very publicly about the Vista version-overload fiasco. Microsoft ignored us all. Windows 7 is simply Vista marketing mistakes, take two.
  10. I am really annoyed that they learned nothing despite the efforts of so many to inform them of the things they did wrong with Vista. I feel like we wasted our collective breath trying to convert a cash-obsessed company run by their marketing department into a modern, consumer-oriented technology company.
  11. BONUS reason: Their rip-off approach makes me feel like I walked into one of those cult-like buyers’ clubs where high-pressure salespeople continue to insist their prices are better even when you hand them reams of proof that the equipment they sell is both out-of-date and overpriced.

Truth be told, I’m disappointed, frustrated, and angry with Microsoft. I’ve purchased and used their products for as long as they’ve existed as a company, including all prior versions of Windows. (Yes, even 1.0 – yuck!) I’ve owned numerous copies of their developer tools and Office products. I was using Word and Multiplan on MS-DOS before there was an Excel or even Windows. Before Vista came along, their products were always worth the price to me. That has changed. With their rip-off marketing approach to Vista, and now Windows 7, my respect for Microsoft is gone.

Many are asking the question, "What can we really do about big companies like Microsoft who rip us off like this?" Well, there is really only one thing we can do. Don’t buy their products. Companies like Microsoft have stockholders. Stockholders get annoyed when the company doesn’t make any money. If profits tank, the stockholders and Board of Directors get involved. Then, heads start rolling and drastic changes are made.

Before Vista, Microsoft was a very profitable, steadily-growing company. When Vista was released after 6 years of development, the cold reception it received killed their momentum and created a lot of internal tension. When stockholders started asking for explanations, the quick-thinking management explained it all away as being solely due to 3rd party driver issues.

However, Microsoft completely ignored the second source of public irritation with Vista. They didn’t address version madness and the resulting feeling among consumers that Microsoft is trying to rip us off by selling us cripple-ware and then pushing upgrades on us to get the features we really need.

Sure, Windows 7 has the drivers mostly working now, and it includes some great fixes to many Vista shortcomings, but Microsoft still didn’t address the version madness. In fact, they made it worse. Not only do they plan to release a bunch of crippled versions, but we can’t even buy the complete version. We are forced to buy a crippled version and then pay for an upgrade later. Every time I say that, I shake my head in amazement at their stupidity in coming up with that "solution."

So, why do they have so many versions to begin with? The reality is, it costs them far more to press, package, distribute, maintain, and support 6 different versions of Windows than one. So, why do it? The answer is, they believe they will make more money on the upgrades they sell later. They removed just enough features in each crippled version that they believe everyone will be forced to buy an upgrade at some point in the future.

Personally, I don’t believe that’s what will actually happen. It didn’t happen with Vista. Using that tactic to squeeze a few more dollars from us just pisses people off and makes them look even harder at the variety of excellent modern alternatives to Microsoft’s OS.

Here is what I, and many others, believe: If Microsoft sold one complete version, they could charge substantially less for that single version. In fact, if they sold the complete version for the price of the cheapest crippled version, they would likely make more money than they will by pissing people off with their buy-then-upgrade tactics. More people would buy Windows 7. They would buy it sooner. They would buy it at a faster pace. Combine that with the reduced costs of a single version, and you get larger cash flows, bigger profits, and happier stockholders. Unfortunately, they don’t see this and are continuing down their obsessive path to nowhere.

While Windows 7 might do better sales numbers than Vista eventually, I still don’t see it taking off like it could if they took a more consumer-friendly approach. Think about it. People are now very apprehensive about buying Windows after the way they were treated by Microsoft with Vista. Treating them like that a second time will be far more difficult to repair. Word of mouth killed Vista’s momentum. By continuing the version madness of Vista, they have already created a lot of negative buzz before Windows 7 is even released. I feel this is a mistake they may live to regret.

On a more positive note for some consumers, Apple sells one complete version of their OS for one reasonable price, which is what people really want. We all want more for less. With Windows 7 being mostly internal fixes to Vista, and continuing the rip-off, crippled-version, insanity of Vista, I don’t see anything at all to stand in the way of Apple’s continued climb in market share. More people jumping to Apple’s platform, will mean more software and hardware developed for that platform, which will draw even more Apple converts.

So, if you own Apple stock, rejoice. Your future looks bright! With this Windows 7 announcement, Microsoft has, once-again, made it much easier to take away their market share.

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